Be Inclusive

by Billy Pittard on March 5, 2010

The world is changing so fast that it’s literally impossible to keep up. The best we can hope to do is develop a certain comfort level with the accelerated rate of change, and have a pretty good idea of where to go for help. This is especially true for anything that involves technology. Once you cross that boundary into the realm of technology, you’re talking about coordinating the efforts of people from vastly different disciplines. As a result, it’s more important than ever to know how to collaborate effectively with others. Even if your project is a simple one, knowing how to collaborate effectively makes a big difference.

A great collaboration starts with a clear vision of the goals that everyone is working toward. I’ve always found that a well-thought-out, written creative brief is a great way to literally get everyone on the same page. See my earlier blog entry for more detail about that.

Involve team members as early and deeply as possible. The experts who are responsible for implementing the project will bring critical perspectives that can radically affect the direction and success of the project. The earlier they have a chance to influence the direction the project takes, the more likely the project will benefit from their expertise. This is especially important in projects that have significant technical aspects.

An in-person kickoff meeting is extremely valuable. All team members should attend the kickoff meeting. It’s just a reality of today’s marketplace that many projects are composed of virtual teams who never have a chance to meet in person, but every reasonable effort should be made to have an in-person kickoff meeting. Short of that, conference calls or online video conferences are the next best things. An effective kickoff meeting serves several valuable purposes:

Assures that team members understand the project’s goals, limitations, schedule, budget, available assets, etc.
Clarifies each participant’s role.
Helps everyone understand the roles of the other team members.
Allows team members to meet each other and establish a human connection.
The most important thing about a kickoff meeting is to involve all of the key players from the beginning, and to get those team members talking to each other about coordinating their efforts. Open lines of communication are key to a successful collaboration.

My brother is a contractor and I’ll never forget something he taught me about construction – which is really a form of collaboration. He told me the toughest part of being a contractor was where the trades meet. For example, where the tile meets the hardwood floor. If those two trades aren’t coordinating with each other, you’ll have a permanent bump in the floor where they meet.

Meetings at key points with all the team members are also valuable. Encourage team members to report on how their parts of the project are going, and particularly to discuss any areas where the efforts of different participants overlap or connect. Maintain an atmosphere where people feel safe to express points of view, concerns and/or observations.

Websites are a good example of a creative collaboration that involves several disparate disciplines. I had the pleasure of directing a recent online documentary about a company that has a unique approach to collaboration on websites. The company is Big Spaceship, and the documentary is part of the Creative Inspirations series on Lynda.com. You can sample that documentary at this link. Big Spaceship designed their open office around five team spaces. Each self-contained and complete team fits inside a U shaped workspace. This allows the designers, developers, and project managers to work closely and visibly with each other. The system works so well for spontaneous communication that there are no phones on any of those desks, and email is kept to a minimum. Their system is obviously working because Big Spaceship is responsible for some of the most creative and advanced websites on the Internet.

Please share your comments on my blog, and please feel free to ask for my help.

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